Meeting Description: There is increasing awareness that our understanding of the dynamics and stability of human systems cannot be uncoupled from their environmental and ecological context. Most of the work on what are called “socio-ecological systems” or “coupled natural-human systems” focuses on modern systems. However, there is an enormous amount of archaeological knowledge that can deeply inform, enhance and transform our understanding of socio-ecological dynamics and sustainability. Work on past systems where we know the system’s trajectory can provide a powerful framework for addressing socio-ecological resilience, stability and robustness in response to natural and human perturbations and change.
Our working group will address the overarching question of “How human interactions with biodiversity shape socio-ecological dynamics and sustainability” with a deep-time focus. While a great deal of archaeological and anthropological research has explored how humans have interacted with various plants, animals and other taxa, there has been no systematic or comprehensive assessments of the full array of such biodiversity interactions for particular systems, much less a synthesis across systems. We plan to integrate available archaeological, ethnographic, ecological, climatic and geological data to compile new “human-centered interaction networks” that comprehensively document the many ways humans interact with other species (e.g., using them for food, shelter, clothing, tools, etc.), and conduct synthetic analyses and modeling across multiple systems. We propose to use such integration and synthesis to better understand the roles of cultural, ecological and environmental constraints and synergies in the sustainability of socio-ecological systems in the past, with lessons for the present and future.